Brandel Library

BSE 3520: Principles of Management and Leadership

Asking a Good Research Question

Characteristics of an Effective Research Question

Develop your research question with these characteristics in mind. You want your question to be

  • Interesting to you. Choose something you're genuinely curious about. You will write a better paper and enjoy the process more. 
  • Stated in clear and concise language. Make sure the language you choose precisely states what you are researching in as few words as possible. 
  • Focused. You'll need a question that is appropriately scoped for the length of the assignment. The general tendency is to start with a topic that is too broad, so take special care to make sure you've narrowed your topic. Professors prefer an in-depth treatment of a narrow topic over a paper that scratches the surface of a broad topic. 
  • Complex. Focus on questions that require you to analyze ideas, not just state facts. 
  • Arguable. Your paper will require you to build an argument that is supported by research. For that to be effective, you need a question that can be debated. 

It is worthwhile to ensure that your research question checks all of these boxes, because these are also the characteristics of a good thesis. As you conduct your research your question will turn into your thesis.

For additional guidance, see this guide on writing research questions from George Mason University (the content here is adapted from that guide). 

Picking Your Topic is Research

Brainstorming with 5Ws and an H

Try asking questions about your topic that begin with one of these words:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why
  • How

Why and How questions can be especially useful for generating dynamic research questions.

"Pre-Search" Resources

In order to ask a good research question you'll often need to do some preliminary research ("pre-search"). Learning more about the subject will help you refine your topic and ask more insightful questions. Some good places to start: 

  • Your course textbook
  • Wikipedia (just remember you're using it to generate ideas, not as a reliable source)
  • Your professor
  • Google
  • Library databases

Search Strategy Worksheet